But it shouldn’t.
Yes, Miller Lite is the superior mass-marketed light beer. But it’s not because it has more taste. It’s because it has less taste.
Let me explain.
The question of “more taste” in light beer — already an oxymoron of sorts — garnered attention with MillerCoors’ “Know Your Beer” marketing campaign from last summer.
Among the commercials was one featuring a can of Miller Lite sliding across a bar amid the words: “Most drinkers agree/ More taste than Bud Light.” A similar commercial declared Miller Lite was “always brewed with more taste.”
MillerCoors even erected billboards in Anheuser-Busch’s ancestral home of St. Louis, claiming that 7 of 10 locals believed Miller Lite had “more taste than Bud Light.”
That’s some warpath-level stuff.
In reality, Miller Lite has been playing the “more taste” card for more than 10 years. But it was the “Know Your Beer” campaign — and perhaps those billboards — that led Anheuser-Busch to complain to the National Advertising Division, a division of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council.
The claim: MillerCoors lacked standing to say Miller Lite has “more taste” than Bud Light because of the “inherent ambiguity” in the claim. In a sense, Anheuser-Busch was spot on. “Taste,” as a noun, is “the sensation of flavor perceived in the mouth and throat on contact with a substance.” The word MillerCoors should use to claim Miller Lite’s superiority is “flavor” — “the distinctive taste of a food or drink.”
Nevertheless, MillerCoors responded that its suggestion of “more taste” was rooted in a blind taste test between Miller Lite and Bud Light, in which participants were asked, “Which of these two products, if either, has more taste?”
In recent weeks, the National Advertising Division ruled that MillerCoors provided “a reasonable basis” to say Miller Lite has “more taste” than either of Anheuser-Busch’s two leading light beers, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra: “The advertiser’s 2018 testing showed that 65 percent of participants who tasted Miller Lite and Bud Light chose Miller Lite as having ‘more’ taste, and 70 percent of those who tasted Miller Lite and Michelob Ultra choose Miller Lite as having ‘more’ taste.”
(That said, the National Advertising Council also recommended that MillerCoors stop airing commercials that make it appear the conclusion is based on a survey of taste preference.)
Though MillerCoors is allowed to claim “more taste” — or, for that matter, flavor — in Miller Lite, here’s the thing: It’s a better light beer than Bud Light for the exact opposite reason.
Granted, “less taste” is hardly the stuff of memorable marketing. We tend to think of bigger as better. More as more. So we can forgive MillerCoors for avoiding a campaign built around Miller Lite’s relative neutrality. Miller Lite: Now with even less taste!
But the very essence of a beer claiming to be “light” — and then succeeding because of it — is no mystery: lightness. And that’s where Miller Lite trumps its chief rival. It is cleaner. Crisper. Simpler. It is, as a result, far more refreshing.
Look no further than our blind tasting of macro beers during summer 2017, done by three craft brewers. Of 16 beers sampled, the well-deserving winner was Hamm’s. But the surprising second-place finisher — and the top-rated light beer — was Miller Lite. The brewers described it admiringly as “neutral.” And “crisp.”
Jim Cibak, brewmaster at Revolution Brewing, said at the time that he “would definitely destroy some of these if I was coming out of the desert.” He applauded Miller Lite’s “dryness.” It was, he said, “nice and crisp and thirst-quenching.”
Notice there’s not a lot of talk about taste there. It is the opposite of taste that makes Miller Lite appealing.
Bud Light, though the nation’s top-selling beer, is strangely wonky. It has a pronounced grainy character and a touch of unwelcome sweetness. It is a flaccid beer — anything, but crisp or refreshing.
Cibak said that if Revolution “brewed a German pilsner and this is what it tasted like, I’d probably jump in front of a bus. (Users of the Beer Advocate website agree; they rate Bud Light as “awful” and Miller Lite as merely “poor.”)
For years, I dismissed Miller Lite and Bud Light as equally forgettable. That blind taste test convinced me otherwise.
The sentiment was cemented a few months later while visiting Arizona. After a long day of driving Interstate 40 to the mountain town of Flagstaff, I was ready for a beer. My friends Joe and Leslie, whose garage beer fridge was well-stocked, drank their go-to: Miller Lite.
I grabbed a locally made fruited wheat beer. I usually default to craft beer, but that day it just didn’t scratch the itch. The beer wasn’t all that well made, but that alone wasn’t the problem.
Hazy and exhausted from hours on the road, I wanted refreshment. Crispness. Simplicity. Beer that required no thought. I realized that I wanted a Miller Lite.
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